“I am honestly not thinking about it being the last one,” Toni Nadal said. “I’m not in the beyond. I’m entirely in the present right now, very happy to be in the final and that Rafael is in another final. I’m not thinking about not being here next year. I’ll think about it next year when I’m in Majorca. Nostalgia is for then, not for now.”
Toni and Rafael have been a pair like no other in the modern game. Toni was Rafael’s first teacher, giving him his first lesson at age 3 on the Spanish island of Majorca that the Nadals still call home. Toni has remained Rafael’s mentor for the last 28 years as Rafael has become one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Nadal, who reclaimed the top spot on August 21, is defending just 100 ranking points after the US Open: 90 for a quarterfinal showing in Beijing, and 10 for a round-of-32 loss at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Shanghai.
The 31-year-old’s only real competition for No. 1 is the 36-year-old Federer, who will move past Andy Murray and into the No. 2 spot on Monday. Like Nadal, Federer has a great opportunity to amass ranking points this fall. While Nadal has practically nothing to defend, Federer actually has nothing to defend, given his decision to end his 2016 season after Wimbledon.
Nadal is attempting to win at least two Grand Slam titles in a season for the fourth time in his career (3 in 2010, 2 in 2008, 2013). He is trying to win his first hard court singles title since January 2014 in Doha (d. Monfils). He has played 34 hard-court tournaments, reaching eight hard-court finals since his last title on the surface. Nadal has not faced a Top 20 opponent at the US Open and the last Grand Slam champion to do that was Pete Sampras at 2000 Wimbledon.
The problem for Anderson is that Rafa has been looking less and less troubled with each match at the Open. He found his game in the third round against Leonardo Mayer—the Argentine’s game bears more than a passing resemblance to Anderson’s—and played with his old swagger in his semifinal steamroll over Juan Martin del Potro. Anderson’s serve alone should allow him to stay close in sets, and it’s easy to imagine him wiping away a dozen break points with it. But Nadal has played 22 more major finals than Anderson. That may be the only stat you need to know for this one.
“He played very smart from the second until the end of the match, because I was just standing all the time on my left side and once he played down the line, he won the point.
“I think at the beginning of the match, he was playing all the time to my backhand, trying to see how good is my backhand at this moment. It was good, but it wasn’t good enough to play a four-set, five-set match. And I couldn’t make any winners in the match, which you must do a lot of winners against Rafa.”
Hard courts will never be Nadal’s favorite surface. That will always be his native clay, to which his game is so naturally suited. But like few others, Nadal has continually tweaked his game, adapting it to compete and win on a surface that began as a challenge.
Had Rafael Nadal had never played a professional tournament in his life on dirt, he would still have a Hall-of-Fame career.
The world No. 1 has been uniquely willing to treak his game and work to improve, rather than stubbornly stick with something that has worked in the past.
Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza ensured a Spanish double at the top of the rankings next week, with Nadal set to stay No. 1 in the ATP rankings and Muguruza reaching the top spot in the WTA rankings for the first time in her career.